The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that BB&T Securities agreed to return more than $5 million to retail investors and pay a $500,000 penalty to settle charges that a firm it acquired misled its advisory clients into believing they were receiving full-service brokerage services in-house at a discount while significantly less expensive options were available externally.
According to the SEC’s order, Valley Forge Asset Management used misleading statements and inadequate disclosures about its brokerage services and prices to convince customers to choose the in-house broker.
The SEC’s order finds that, despite promises of a high level of service at a low cost, Valley Forge did not provide any additional services to advisory clients using its in-house brokerage than it did to advisory clients who chose other brokerages with significantly lower commission rates. According to the order, Valley Forge charged commissions averaging roughly 4.5 times more than what clients would have paid using other brokerage options, and the firm obscured the price difference by claiming that it was giving clients a 70% discount off of its supposed retail commission rate.
“Valley Forge put its own interests ahead of its advisory clients, causing them to spend more money unnecessarily by portraying inaccurate costs and benefits of using its in-house brokerage,” said Kelly Gibson, Associate director of enforcement in the SEC’s Philadelphia Regional Office, in a statement. “Dual registrants and advisors with affiliated broker-dealers must accurately disclose all conflicts of interest arising from their brokerage arrangements.”
The SEC’s order finds that BB&T Securities as the successor in interest to Valley Forge violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Without admitting or denying the findings, BB&T Securities consented to a cease-and-desist order, a censure, and agreed to pay disgorgement of $4.7 million and prejudgment interest of $497,387, which it will distribute to affected current and former clients through a fair fund, as well as a $500,000 penalty.
BB&T Securities has ended Valley Forge’s existing directed brokerage program by amending its cost structure and its disclosures.
Former Broker Fined, Barred for Defrauding Customers
A federal district court entered a final consent judgment against a broker who was charged with defrauding customers by making unsuitable and unauthorized trades and churning customers’ accounts that enriched the broker at the customers’ expense.
The judgement orders William Gennity, who was formerly associated with New York-based broker-dealer Alexander Capital L.P., to pay $302,483 — consisting of $127,686 in disgorgement, $14,797 in prejudgment interest and a civil penalty of $160,000.
Separately, the SEC instituted settled administrative proceedings against Gennity in which, without admitting or denying the findings, he consented to a commission order barring him from the securities industry and penny stock trading.